The 102 best films to watch on Netflix
Light the fire, make the popcorn, and settle down for a binge-watch of some of these greats
13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016)
Everybody needs to see this urgent, scholarly dissection of the prison system in the United States. Multinationals and presidents – from Ike to Clinton – do not emerge well as DuVernay unpicks a history of racial inequality, from the abolition of slavery to the jaundiced media presentation of Black Lives Matter.
The 40-year-old Virgin (Judd Apatow, 2005)
Apatow’s directorial debut about a sexually challenged nerd is still his funniest film. Steve Carell stars.
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill, 2003)
Broomfield and Churchill look into the grim story of murderer Aileen Wuornos. Inevitably they discover wider horrors about society. Charlize Theron would later win an Oscar for playing Aileen.
All About Eve (Joseph L Mankiewicz, 1950)
“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Bette Davis heads the cast in one of the greatest, most sharply scripted films ever about the creative arts. The male romantic leads are underwhelming, but evil George Sanders has never been better. Hollywood at its busiest and at its best.
Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, 2015)
Kaufman’s pessimistic vision is at its most poignant in this animated tale of a businessman coping indifferently during an evening in a generic hotel. Features the oddest sex scene since Team America. Also notable for expert research into hotel life during the Clinton era
Apocalypto (Mel Gibson, 2006)
Talk about bad timing: released six months after its director made certain unfortunate remarks, the audacious Apocalypto ought to have secured Mel Gibson’s reputation as a major directorial talent. His tremendous running-man actioner – set against the last days of the great Mayan empire – was rightly hailed as a masterpiece by such filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee.
Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2016)
At 60, retired music critic Clara (Sônia Braga) is a badass who can turn heads and rock out to Queen better than anyone else in her picturesque seaside Brazilian city. She is now the sole resident in her apartment block and the property developers are playing dirty. Mendonça’s film has epic sweep, real emotion and, at its heart, a quite brilliant performance.
Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
Fans of Woody Allen are spoiled for choice over at Netflix.ie right now. Choose from classics like Bananas, Hannah and Her Sisters, Purple Rose of Cairo, Manhattan, Radio Days and Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex. Or newer Allen joints like To Rome with Love. Or imitation Allen films like Antz and Play It Again Sam, starring, well, Woody Allen. Gun to our head choice is still Annie Hall. And it has the best Marshall McLuhan gag ever.
The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)
The best modern horror has always derived from everyday traumas. This superb Australian shocker concerns a young mother coping indifferently with her troublesome young son. Are the various strange occurrences down to the boy’s misbehaviour or a natty spectre spoken of in a children’s book?
Bad Lieutenant (Abel Ferrarra, 1992)
The horrific rape of a nun might just be getting to Harvey Keitel’s gambling, crack-smoking, sexual-assaulting, corrupt cop. Ferrarra’s unabashedly torrid (and strangely Catholic) drama was remade by Werner Herzog in 2009, but remains an entirely singular picture.
Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000)
A hugely influential Japanese action film concerning a dystopian future in which schoolchildren fight to the death on an isolated island, like Lord of the Flies restaged as reality television. Every year, somebody will declare some new film a “rip off of Battle Royale”. They are usually right.
Beavis and Butthead Do America (Mike Judge, 1996)
The film version of the key mid-1990s’ celebration of male slackerdom was much better than it needed to be. The two guys travel the country in search of their stolen television. Along the way they meet an ass. Huh, huh, huh!
The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, 1998)
On release, it’s often hard to tell whether a Coen brothers film is going to set in with the public. The Big Lebowski, featuring Jeff Bridges as a middle-aged bum in search of a carpet, opened to middling reviews and more middling box office. It’s now among the most quoted of their films. Deservedly.
Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass, 2002)
Can it really be that long ago? Greengrass’s searing, kinetic retelling of the events surrounding Bloody Sunday propelled him towards an eventual berth in the Bourne franchise. James Nesbitt plays the admirable SDLP politician Ivan Cooper.
Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
Léa Seydou and Adèle Exarchopoulos became, at Cannes, the first two actors to receive honorary Palmes d’Or when they were honoured for their emotionally raw performance as two very different French women falling in and out of love. Famously explicit sex scenes.
Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981)
More than a decade before Pulp Fiction, Brian De Palma found new things to do with John Travolta in this paranoid thriller concerning a movie sound designer who may have accidentally recorded an assassination attempt. The allusions to Antonioni’s Blowup are unmistakable.
Bone Tomahawk (S Craig Zahler, 2016)
An awesome cannibal western in which a forgetful ’fraidy cat deputy sheriff (Richard Jenkins) and a hilariously sardonic doctor’s assistant (Banshee’s Lili Simmons) are carried off into the night. It falls to her hobbled husband (Patrick Wilson), the hard-nosed local sheriff (Kurt Russell) and a mercenary “injun”-hunter (Matthew Fox) to rescue them from their mute, people-eating kidnappers.
Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)
Okay, some of the montages bend the truth just a little. Yes, the gotcha on Charlton Heston now looks in questionable taste. But Moore’s evisceration of the US’s gun culture is more relevant than ever. As with all Moore joints, it’s as serious as it is funny.
The Burbs (Joe Dante, 1989)
Joe Dante remains among the most undervalued of American film-makers. Few other directors combine acuity with entertainment in such neat packages. The Burbs is a case in point. Tom Hanks is among those fearing fishy neighbours in the first Bush years. The final message is: we’re always looking in the wrong place for danger.
Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011)
Jack Black (never better) stars as a twinkling bachelor mortician courting a demanding, abusive millionaire (Shirley MacLaine). Real-life curtain-twitching Texan townsfolk pop up periodically to recount Marjorie and Bernie’s real-life relationship. Expect the unexpected.
The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015)
An unexpectedly entertaining translation of Michael Lewis’s analysis of the cuckoo-bananas mortgage- and credit-swapping bonanza that led to the US financial crisis of 2007 to 2010. Writer-director Adam McKay, whose previous hits include the Will Ferrell vehicles Anchorman and Step Brothers, calls in a killer cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt.
Born into Brothels (Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman)
An Oscar-winning portrait of the children of prostitutes in Sonagachi, Kolkata, India’s red-light district.
Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)
This landmark bildungsroman – starring Cuba Gooding Jr, Laurence Fishburne and Ice Cube – lured viewers with the promise of urban warfare, only to plead with them to “increase the peace”.
The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985)
Fancy a classic teen movie? John Hughes fans are spoiled for choice over at Netflix. Check out Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and – for the Xmas inclined – Home Alone.
Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005)
In 1959, Truman Capote, on assignment for the New Yorker, would travel to rural Kansas to investigate the slaying of a farm family and the drifters responsible for the massacre. Miller’s clever film reconstructs and questions the ethics. Philip Seymour Hoffman rightly bagged an Oscar for his performance in the title role.
Casting Jonbenet (Kitty Green, 2017)
On December 26th, 1996, the body of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found bludgeoned and strangled in the basement of her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado. Director Kitty Green investigates by holding casting auditions in the Boulder community 20 years later. Riveting.
City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund, 2002)
Who knew that this frantic, vast study of Rio de Janeiro’s underlife would launch a renaissance in Latin American cinema? Since then, Meirelles, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G Iñárritu have gone on to boss the Oscars. City of God remains a classic of urban decay.
Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
Yes, we know it’s an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. Everyone knows that. Alicia Silverstone was great as the archetypal valley girl – nosy but decent – in a film whose ripples are still spreading. It gave us Paul Rudd and the late Brittany Murphy, and spawned a sitcom and a lexicon. Beat that, Austen.
Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015)
The seventh film to feature Rocky Balboa sees the Italian Stallion taking a backseat as the kindly mentor to Adonis Creed (the wildly charismatic Michael B Jordan), the illegitimate offspring of the late Apollo Creed, Rocky’s one-time nemesis turned best pal. The best possible Rocky comeback.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
All these years later, it’s worth reminding ourselves what a singular phenomenon this film was. A lengthy Mandarin wuxia that somehow scored at the box office and stormed the Oscars. Lee went on to confirm he is among the most versatile directors of his generation.
Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991)
Lavish, poetic movie – the first directed by a black woman to get a wide theatrical release – depicts the mocambo life of an enclave beyond slavery. Its reappearance in cinemas is, of course, largely down to Beyoncé’s Lemonade. The visual album liberally pays homage. It’s worth discovering or rediscovering.
Dear White People (Justin Simien, 2014)
Racial tensions flare at a fictional Ivy League college when smart, outspoken Sam (Tessa Thompson) defeats the son of the school’s dean in a student election. Now a popular TV show.
Days of Heaven (Terence Malick, 1978)
Remember when Malick was an enigma known for two, beautifully odd masterpieces? Sam Shepard, Brooke Adams and Richard Gere star in a gorgeous tragedy set in rural Texas during the early part of the last century. The “magic hour” cinematography remains legendary. Malick would then disappear for 20 years.
The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005)
Some of the best horror films have the simplest premises. Neil Marshall’s masterpiece of claustrophobia and isolation argues the case. A group of female cavers is hunted by flesh-eating troglodytes. It could be cheesy, but Marshall’s cautious rationing of shocks maintains the tension nicely.
Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, 2015)
An entry in the small genre of films that helps clarify how awful the Bohemian life can be, Heller’s beautifully judged comedy stars the rising Bel Powley as a teenager in 1970s San Francisco. Life was not so idyllic there as we are often led to believe. It’s a breakout turn by Powley.
Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
“Or How I learned to . . .” You know all that. Kubrick’s exhausting precision rubs up against Peter Sellers’s own mad obsessions to deliver a savage satire on the absurdity of mutually assured destruction. The late Ken Adam’s set designs might be the most valuable player.
Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011)
After an awkward few years, Refn broke above ground when this automotive thriller took best director at the Cannes Film Festival. There are hints of Walter Hill’s The Driver here, but Refn’s hip existentialism is very much his own. Ryan Gosling stars.
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009)
Some 20 years after scaly aliens arrive in Johannesburg, the unfortunate beasts are still being detained in a crumbling shantytown. Neill Blomkamp’s superb science-fiction debut works equally well as a metaphor for apartheid and a white-knuckle thriller.
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)
Two years before the American civil war, Django (Jamie Foxx) decides to find his wife and singlehandedly dismantle slavery. Much like Inglourious Basterds, this is more delightful historical revisionism from Tarantino.
Dope (Rick Famuyiwa, 2015)
Toppling every teen movie stereotype you can think of, this slick joint concerns a group of 1990s hip-hop-obsessed black nerds: Malcolm, Jib and the transsexual Diggy. Geek power and welcome idiosyncrasies ensure this isn’t just another laddish adventure pivoting around a bag of drugs.
Drunken Master (Yuen Woo-ping, 1978)
One of Jackie Chan’s most entertaining early entertainments. The great man plays an idiot who, after many typical mishaps, falls under the protection of the titular boozed-up tutor. A cinematic encyclopaedia of Asian fighting styles.
Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)
Cronenberg eschews body horror for a sinister, elegantly contorted story of Russian gangsters in contemporaneous London. Viggo Mortensen is relentlessly worrying as a hood who may not be what he seems. Famous for a legendary fight in a bathhouse that will have male viewers nervously crossing legs.
Eddie the Eagle (Dexter Fletcher, 2016)
No, really. Taron Egerton’s excellent performance as the famously average British ski-jumper helps turn a potentially tedious novelty into a delightful tale of relative triumph over modest ability. Good support from such unlikely stars as Christopher Walken and Hugh Jackman. The spirit of Ealing lives.
Escape from Alcatraz (Don Siegel, 1979)
A piece of cinematic history. The final collaboration between Siegel and Clint Eastwood is not their very finest hour, but the story of an attempt to break out of the US’s most secure prison is tense, engrossing and full of eccentric moments. Who better than Patrick McGoohan to play the warden?
Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996)
A heavily pregnant police chief (Frances McDormand) investigates a series of murders and a botched kidnapping plot in this influential black comedy. Coen Brothers fans should also avail of No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing and Raising Arizona.
Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009)
George Clooney is the titular animal, who, years after retiring, gets back into the chicken-stealing business. His return to the fray arouses murderous intentions among local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. All the usual Anderson suspects – Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody – have turned out for the occasion. The Bagpuss-style animation could not be more charming.
Handsome Devil (John Butler, 2017)
Award-winning comedy set in a rugby-mad school during the 1980s, concerning the sometimes fraught friendship between a gay, sports-hating loner and a star jock. Under the tutelage of an inspirational English teacher (Andrew Scott), these guarded youngsters slowly learn to be true to themselves.
Harold and Kumar Get The Munchies (Danny Leiner, 2004)
Confused purists would claim that Cheech and Chong offer the best stoned comedy, but Harold and Kumar exceed even their smoky brilliance. You read that trivia right. Kal Penn went on to become an adviser in the Obama White House.
Harsh Times (David Ayer, 2005)
David Ayer has had an odd career. Fine, tough thrillers such as End of Watch led towards the okay Fury and the horrible Suicide Squad. His best film remains this tremendous tale from LA’s mean streets, starring Christian Bale at his most manly.
Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
It’s worth remembering what an odd pitch this was. A visual artist directs an obscure German-Irishman in the tale of Bobby Sands’s decline. It proved to be one of the most effective exercises in pure cinema of the decade. Michael Fassbender is transcendent.
Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s follow-up to the splendid Shaun Of The Dead keeps up the same pleasing level of parodic chatter. Pegg and Nick Frost are small-time rural cops trapped in a sprawling Wicker Man conspiracy.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016)
An aging curmudgeon (Sam Neill) and his delinquent foster son Ricky (Julian Dennison) are self-styled outlaws in this dry New Zealand comedy. Waititi puffs up the mythology of the place only to pop it like a balloon. Like this? Watch vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows from the same director.
I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Any More (Macon Blair)
Blair, the breakout star of Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, makes his directorial debut with this sadcom featuring Melanie Lynskey as a socially awkward depressive on the hunt for the people who stole her laptop. Blackly comic violence ensues. Watch with Saulnier’s Green Room for a bloody double bill.
It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
Fiendishly clever psychological horror about a sexually transmitted murderous ghost. Maika Monroe is superb as the Final Girl.
The Incredible Jessica James (James C. Strouse, 2017)
Aspiring playwright Tasha (Noël Wells) and Boone (Chris O’Dowd) might just be perfect for each other. If only they can stop stalking their exes online.
James and the Giant Peach (Henry Selick, 1996)
There are fewer great Roald Dahl adaptations than you might guess. Selick’s stop-motion take on the master’s odd tale of a typically misused orphan is among the best. The animation is spookily beautiful. Randy Newman delivers some great songs. The live-action sequences are also charming.
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
Michael Winner once declared Ray’s camp, mad, unclassifiable western among the worst films he’d ever seen. The academics and the critics disagree. Featuring Joan Crawford as a saloonkeeper from the Brothers Grimm, Johnny Guitar is a model of anti-genre genre. Truffaut called it the “Beauty and the Beast of westerns”. Essential.
Kung Fu Panda (John Stevenson, Mark Osborne, 2008)
The Kung Fu Panda films are silly, snarky and packed full of indulgent jokes. They are also among the most beautiful animated films ever made. What we have essentially is a Chinese wuxia epic remodelled as an anthropomorphic comedy. Better ideas have delivered worse films.
La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)
Weirdly, Chazelle’s musical became, in its Oscar run, the film that many filmgoers seemed proud of hating. Though imperfect, La La Land is a beautifully poised tribute to (among other things) the playful flourishes of Jacques Demy. A pleasure.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (John Hancock, 1971)
Psychologically delicate Jessica moves to a remote New England farmhouse with her musician husband, only to find a strange young squatter, a town of bandaged malcontents, and a mysterious ferryman. Is Jessica relapsing? Overlooked on release, this La Fanu-inspired intrigue is now rightly regarded as one of the great movie freak-outs.
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
Adapting a fine book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Alfredson breaks new ground in the vampire genre with the story of a lonely boy falling for the young (actually impossibly ancient) girl next door. The film does not shy away from horror. But it is most memorable as a study of childhood insecurity. Creepily beautiful.
The Lunchbox (Ritesh Batra, 2013)
Irrfan Khan can stake a claim to being among the very best actors in the world, but we rarely get to see him playing leads in these territories. Batra makes great use of his sad features in this romance concerning a middle-aged widower who ends up with someone else’s lunchbox. Sweet, moving, believable.
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2015)
A young optometrist, Adi Rukun, searches out the men who brutally murdered his brother, Ramli in 1965. The director of the brilliantly innovative The Act of Killing revisits the Indonesian killing fields for a murder-mystery on a genocidal scale.
Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman, 2016)
Kate Beckinsale and her Last Days of Disco co-star Chloë Sevigny have lately reunited with writer-director Stillman for a deliciously arch adaptation of Jane Austen’s abandoned early novella Lady Susan. Beckinsale has a ball as the devious Lady Susan Vernon – a “genius of the evil kind” by her fictional sister-in-law’s reckoning – and the most conniving of Austen’s creations.
Mistress America (Noah Baumbach, 2015)
Greta Gerwig’s third collaboration with Baumbach concerns the friendship between a lonely college freshman (Lola Kirke) and her older, wackier step-sister-to-be, Brooke (Gerwig). Screwball comedy ensues. Like this? Try The Squid and the Whale by the same director.
Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
Scorsese’s now-legendary study of life in New York’s Little Italy is actually the director’s third feature, but this feels like the point at which he really found his mojo. So much of the style is there. The use of popular music. The feeling for street talk. And, of course, De Niro as he should be best remembered. The Rosetta Stone for Scorsesians.
Minions (Pierre Coffin, 2015)
Here’s a fact you might enjoy. The 2015 spin off from Despicable Me is the 13th highest grossing film of all time. Even its biggest fans would admit that’s a statistical anomaly, but Minions really is terrific fun. The picture takes in all humanity from the Stone Age through the Napoleonic era up to the court of Queen Elizabeth. Who’d have thought it?
A Most Violent Year (JC Chandor, 2014)
Oscar Issac and Jessica Chastain tear up the screen in a moody, icy gem about the decline of New York in the early 1980s. The best film ever about heating oil supply. The most utterly fabulous costumes for Chastain. Deserves to be better known.
Mousehunt (Gore Verbinski, 1997)
Criminally underrated family caper in which warring brothers – Nathan Lane and Lee Evans – team up to renovate a house. But how will they get rid of the crafty rodent on the premises?
Mudbound (Dees Rees, 2017)
Sprawling tale of interlocking characters – some white, some African-American – in the years after the second World War. In a script adapted from Hillary Jordan’s novel of the same name, Rees and co-writer Virgil Williams (ER, 24) find a microcosm of contemporary racial politics and fault lines in historical segregation. A fine ensemble cast – including Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell and Mary J Blige – do the heavy lifting.
Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
When a news network’s ratings slip they find themselves falling back on a messianic former employee (Peter Finch) who trades in the audience’s unfocused anger. You could argue that Network is prophetic. But the film failed to hit on the sheer banality that was to come. Brilliant all the same.
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (Brian Knappenberer, 2017)
A documentary about Hulk Hogan’s legal takedown of Gawker Media over a sex tape ought to be amusing. Instead, it’s the scariest film of the year. A terrifying demonstration of how billionaires like Ayn Rand-admiring Peter Thiel and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson can silence and shut down journalism.
Notes on Blindness (Peter Middleton, James Spinney, 2016)
In 1983, after years of deteriorating vision, the writer and theologian John Hull lost the last traces of light sensation. For the next three years, he recorded more than 16 hours on audio cassette, recordings that form the spine of this achingly poignant film.
Okja (Bong Joon-ho, 2017)
When Netflix set the great Korean director loose on this ecological fable they promised no restrictions. It seems they were good to their word. This saga of a giant, genetically modified pig-thing is so diverting it’s almost possible to ignore Jake Gyllenhaal’s grating, high-pitched performance.
On The Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)
Whole new movements in American cinema were launched with Kazan’s gritty, raw tale of corruption and defiance among the longshoremen of urban New Jersey. Was he addressing his own collaboration with the Communist witch hunts? Brando and Steiger are untouchable.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Steve Carr, 2009)
There’s a man somewhere on the internet who spends his time photo-shopping Paul Blart into stills from the highbrow films of Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul. He’s making fun of the Mall Cop. But I like to believe he’s also acknowledging the universal appeal of a duffer for the ages. Anyway, it’s pretty funny.
The People Versus Larry Flint (Miloš Forman, 1996)
Forman, exiled from the former Czechoslovakia, understood the issues surrounding freedom of speech better than most. He was, thus, well-placed to direct a film about an unlovely man defending unlovely material from even less lovely censorship. Woody Harrelson was terrific as the roguish anti-hero.
Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
It seems hard now to imagine there was a time before Quentin Tarantino. Despite being a serial borrower, his obsessions and quirks have become an immovable part of cinema. All that came together in his still-delicious second film. It’s all action and chat. The music complements that action. He has a lot to answer for. But it’s still a cracker.
Phase IV (Saul Bass, 1974)
An unexplained cosmic event causes ants to form a global hive mind. What can it mean? The only feature directed by designer Saul Bass and a classic, silver-age sci-fi. Prepare to feel freaked.
Philomena (Stephen Frears, 2013)
The true-life story of an Irish woman’s 50-year struggle to find her son who was sold by nuns for adoption in America, Frears’ dramedy yokes Dench’s every-gran to Steve Coogan’s stand-offish political journalist as the pair embark on a mismatched trans-Atlantic odyssey.
Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009)
Life has not been kind to Claireece Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), an obese, illiterate, black 16-year-old growing up in Harlem with a Down Syndrome son and a monstrous mother (Mo’Nique). Can a dedicated teacher (Paula Patton) and social worker (Mariah Carey) make a difference?
Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog, 2006)
Working from his own 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Herzog revisits the true story of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler, who was shot down and captured by Communist villagers during the Vietnam War. Possibly Christian Bale’s finest hour
Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
Montgomery Clift, rising face of “the method”, and John Wayne, already a legend, square up in a tale of a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas. The coming generational conflicts are prematurely addressed in one of the best westerns ever made. We need more Hawks on Netflix.
Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988)
Bill Murray is at his most monstrously manic in this enduring adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Team with Groundhog Dog for a manic Murray double bill.
Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973)
Honest cop Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) turns whistleblower on his corrupt colleagues in this classic gritty thriller. Add Donnie Brasco for a perfect Pacino double bill.
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
The belated, baffling re-evaluation as “best film of all time” by visitors to IMDb should not distract us from the simple, strong pleasures available here. Detailing a lengthy prison break, Darabont’s film swells with belief in a very American school of decency. Tim Robbins is good. Morgan Freeman is better.
Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014)
A beautifully shot, powerfully acted study of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. There is an oddly high British presence among the cast. Tom Wilkinson is President Johnson. Tim Roth is George Wallace. David Oyelowo is particularly strong as Martin Luther King. Somehow or other, it got nominated for only two Oscars.
Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Michael Fassbender is hypnotic as a man who can’t tear himself away from sexual liaisons in a sinister version of New York City. McQueen shoots with customary fluid grace. The sense of moral squalor and awkward legacies is powerful. For all that, the argument for the realness of sex addiction is weak. Would he ever pull himself together?
She’s Gotta Have It (Spike Lee, 1986)
Pow! With one sweep Spike Lee had arrived in the room next to the mainstream. His debut feature – shot in glossy black and white by Ernest Dickerson – studies a young Brooklyn woman as she moves between three potential partners. So much of the following decade’s culture is knitted up in here.
Sing Street (John Carney, 2016)
The Irish director John Carney has found his own thing – the uplifting vernacular musical – and he has never done that thing better than with this autobiographical gem. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Jack Reynor are two differently troubled brothers in 1980s Dublin. Maybe a song can save their lives.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Martin Ritt, 1965)
When Ritt sought somewhere bleak enough to stand in for East Berlin he settled upon Dublin. The Wall was built in Smithfield, you know. This adaptation of John le Carré’s breakthrough novel remains the necessary antidote to James Bond. Richard Burton is bleary and befuddled as the circus operative who seems to have gone off the rails.
Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2016)
Géza Röhrig plays Saul, a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz. These were the inmates who, granted little more than a stay of execution, assisted in the operation of the gas chambers and the disposal of the murdered. Saul is battered back to reality when he comes across the body of his son in the chamber. Hands down best film on Netflix.
Step Brothers (Adam McKay, 2008)
Will Ferrell and John C Reilly are squabbling siblings by marriage who enjoy “activities”, battering one another with tricycles, and attempting to break up their parents’ unwelcome union. Grown men fighting as high art.
Straight Outta Compton (F Gary Gray, 2015)
The career of gangsta rap legends NWA dramatised with no little style. Enlivened by terrific performances from O’Shea Jackson Jr (as his dad Ice Cube), Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, and Paul Giamatti.
The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976)
The third episode in Polanski’s loosely defined Apartment Trilogy – following Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby – is easily the least well known of the three. But it remains an arresting, insidious work. The director stars as an odd man not getting by in Paris. Full of mysteries, quirks and disturbing allusions.
To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)
Mulligan takes no risks with Harper Lee’s holy text, but the picture still buzzes thanks to flawless performances from Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and young Mary Badham as Scout. Robert Duvall makes his screen debut as Boo Radley.
Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015)
A young Spanish woman (Laia Costa) has one hell of a night. Get set for romance, music, clubbing, a heist and a great deal of running in this remarkable one-take Berlin-based thriller.
The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)
Coppola’s film of Jeffrey Eugenides’s gripping book – concerning a rash of suicides in Detroit – is set in the 1970s, but it feels very much of its millennial time. Gorgeously shot by Edward Lachman, sleepily scored by Air, the film catches a Generation X moment as it ripens. Kirsten Dunst excels.
Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)
That’s Frohnkensteen! You need to really, really love Universal’s horror films to deliver a parody this perfect. Everyone has a favourite joke. None of the casting could be better judged. Two generations now see the original films through Brooks’s lens.
The Young Offenders (Peter Foott, 2016)
Two hapless teenaged Corkonians – Conor (Alex Murphy) and Jock (Chris Walley) – venture westwards, for 160km, on stolen bicycles, in search of a missing bale of cocaine. They do extremely inappropriate things with a Choc Ice along the way. A domestic box-office smash.